Sunday, November 11, 2007

Litmus Test for a Healthy House-Churcher

I recently came across a house-church website whose mission is to " inspire those whose spiritual hungers cannot be met in the conventional expressions of Christianity."

Woah there, Betsy. Who ever said anyone's spiritual hungers can be met "in the conventional expressions of Christianity?" I certainly have always known mine cannot. It's by every word that comes from His mouth. It's through my daily walk with Him, feeding on His Word.

Greg Dawkins and Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Church in Chicago have been surveying America's churches to find out whether the needs of the congregations are really being met. They found that for seekers, and new and growing Christians, the local church is doing it's job. But seasoned, mature believers are giving a different report: they are increasingly becoming dissatisfied--even dissillusioned with the local church.

Dawkins and Hybels diagnosed this problem with the fact that church leaders are not helping their people to become "self-feeders." I would agree with that. I think house churchers recognize this too, but it seems their way of dealing with it is to leave the local church and continue self-feeding.

Here's an idea: What if we "self-feeders" stayed in the nest and started feeding the baby birds (teaching them how to become self-feeders)? Oh I know God wants us to get dangerously on the edge of conventional thinking and leave the comfort and safety of reliance upon a pastor and the "system...." but try this on for size: What if we became so much "like a little child"--so "poor in spirit"--that we saw an opportunity in the local church to roll up our sleeves and get working, forgetting about whether or not our needs are being met? Just what if we started showing up to serve? I can't help but wonder if Willow's statistics would change.

None-the-less, I'm just as embarrassed by many aspects of conventional Christianity as anyone. Some days I come close to throwing in the Church towel and becoming a spiritual hippie. I'm glad people like Hybels and Dawkins (Barna and the like) are waking us up to the fact that the local church is failing miserably in a lot of ways. And I respect my brothers and sisters who choose to leave it. As for me, I choose to stay in for now, speak up and affect change. Someone's gotta!

(Sep. 2008 update) I'm not against house church. There are a lot of healthy house churches whose members are in it for the right reasons. But unfortunately, statistics show that many house churches are made up of disgruntled or disillusioned church members. Here's my litmus test for a "healthy house churcher:" Can you visit a local church at any time and feel at home with the Body of Christ? Or has it been years since you've darkened the door of a church? Is your speech about the "organization" laced with cynicism--or humility? Are your church-going friends uncomfortable bringing up the subject around you, fearing they'll be judged as being "still stuck in the institution?" Would your friends hesitate to invite you to hear a special speaker at their church--or do they shy away from the topic in order to keep peace?